BWW Reviews: Eve Ensler's EMOTIONAL CREATURE Empowers and Enthralls at Berkeley Rep

EMOTIONAL-CREATURE-Empowers-and-Enthralls-Now-Thru-July-15-20010101

Playwright, performer and activist Eve Ensler has had a busy week. Monday saw her on the steps of Michigan’s Capitol overseeing a flash-theatre production of her famous play The Vagina Monologues with silenced and rebuked State representative Lisa Brown, who had dared to say the word “vagina” during a house debate on reproductive rights.  Next there were talk show appearances.  Then last night there was the world premiere of her dynamic new show Emotional Creature where the word “vagina,” not to mention “clitoris” was celebrated in a really big and powerful way.

The show exemplifies the spirit and heart of Ensler’s best-selling book “I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World,” shedding light on the joys and challenges as well as the violence faced by girls across the globe.  Playing now through July 15 at the cutting edge Berkeley Repertory Theater, “Emotional Creature” is a theatrically lit match that will light a fire in your heart and has the potential to spark a girl revolution.  Hodges and Hodges (Nick and Linda) were there to experience the energy as the dazzling ensemble of amazingly talented girls took the stage.

Linda, why don’t you start us out?

Thanks, Nick.  What’s striking is that the stories being shared have been compiled by Ensler as she traveled the world talking to girls.  They were eager to share their joys and travails with her and she bears witness to their stories in Emotional Creature.  The diverse ensemble cast of six young actresses representing girls from around the world has unbounded energy and talent.  The repression that they talk about ran from what girls think to what they say; from what they wear to who gets to control their bodies – it’s certainly not them.  Ensler captures this surfeit of struggles magnificently in monologues that are punctuated with soaring songs (lyrics by Ensler and Music by Charl-Johan Ligenfelder) and spirited dance (choreographer Luam) that celebrate the emotionality of girls everywhere.

The set design by Myung He Cho was simple, effective, and gave off a nightclub feel.  The interlocking circular platforms gave the actresses room to move and the light panels at their base added techno style throughout the show.  Behind them was a massive curved projection screen where designer Shawn Sagady released her creative energy in support of the stories, adding movement, mood, passion and pain.  As a trans girl (Emily S. Grosland) speaks, there are stars falling from the sky and when a young woman (Joaquina Kalukango) makes her way to the top of a summit to pray for her clitoris to be spared from the knife, there is a dazzling sunrise.

Perhaps the most disturbing (and effective) projection was that of a series of malevolent male eyes that were used as the backdrop to a story of continuous rape and the subsequent abandonment that happened to one young girl.

I agree that these powerful images were very moving.  Ensler also used comedy quite effectively to talk about the way girls obsess about being thin.  In an ensemble piece about an online site called the Hunger Blog, girls share secrets on how to stop themselves from eating.  One desperate girl pours bleach on her pizza and this “tip” is seized upon by all the rest.  Here they speak readily of their anorexia therapists and the pain of gaining a pound.

There were lighter moments that still drove home deadly points.  We hear from a pre-teen Chinese girl named Chang Ying (a poignant Olivia Oguma) who has worked in a Barbie factory since the age of five. She’s one of the workers who make Barbie’s head.  Twelve hours a day she works and she’s found a little-girl-way to get messages out to the world through a method she calls “head send.”  She thinks very hard and infuses Barbie’s head with a thought that the outside world will hopefully hear.  “There are a billion Barbies in the world,” she says.  “Imagine if we freed them….Imagine if they went from makeover to takeover….Head Send:  Free Barbie…Head Send:  Free Chang Ying!”

Oguma was fantastic.  As the audience laughed at her talking about Barbie, I felt the underlying sadness of her words; innocent words from a child born into slavery, sending out a message to the world, “Free Chang Ying.”   The acting was superb, raw and gutsy.  Another standout for me was Molly Carden who delivered one monologue as an Eastern European sex slave that you won’t ever forget.  The way she described being sold by her father and yet still loving him, was extremely powerful.  Director Jo Bonney was able to create a nice arc of interest between these separate monologues, making the most of timing and interplay between the actresses.

I loved the ensemble piece “My Short Skirt,” especially when one girls says, “My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.”  But my favorite line was “But most importantly, my short skirt and everything under it is mine, mine, mine.”

What I thought was really powerful was when one girl said, “My short skirt is not an invitation to rape me.”  That kind of says what Emotional Creature is all about.  Girls empowered to own their own vaginas, to speak their own minds and to live in order to change the world; for girls to know that they are beautiful and special.  Who do you think would benefit most from seeing this?

It’s empowering for women and teen girls but it is potentially a wakeup call for men and teen boys.  Everyone should see this.  Emotional Creature is a revolution.

I agree.  I noticed that although Eve’s name isn’t an acronym it could very easily be one.

What do you mean?

Eve could stand for Empower Vaginas Everywhere.

Or maybe Emotional Vaginas Emancipated!  I love that her name has a “V” in it.  Victory.  Vaginas.  Valentines….Voice.  That says it all.

Emotional creature
Written by Eve Ensler
Directed by Jo Bonney
Now thru July 15
www.berkeleyrep.org
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

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Linda Hodges and Nick Hodges Hodges & Hodges Set the Stage provides a wide-ranging look into select productions that are premiering or touring in the Bay area.

Dedicated to enhancing the theater-going experience, this mother/son team gives you tips on show-focused and local "things to do" that will get you revved up and ready for the show - even before you enter the actual theater. They also give a theatre critics "what to watch for" perspective and do the ever popular celeb review! They're fun, campy and a little zany - just perfect for San Francisco!

Linda Hodges is a freelance writer who has been covering the vibrant and exciting San Francisco Bay Area theater scene for the past six years. A dedicated theater aficionado, Linda first became involved in the dramatic arts while in college, becoming one of the first “techies” at her school to be voted into Delta Psi Omega, the National Theatre Honor Society. She holds a Masters in Theological Studies from Pacific School of Religion and maintains that theater, at its best, is a religious experience! Linda is currently working on her first novel and, as always, is looking forward to another opening night.

Nick Hodges has been a theatre critic with BroadwayWorld for three years now. He's performed in theater since the fifth grade and his passion for the arts has only continued to grow. Now 26, he currently studies acting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has been in dozens of shows. He also did summer camps at Berkeley Rep and attended at Disney University in Orlando while also working at Disney World. Through these rich and varied experiences he has gained a deep perspective of what it truly takes to make a theatrical production successful. He is thrilled to be writing for BroadwayWorld!


 
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